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HOW TO SWING THE DEAL

The dramatic exit of Vaiko from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance in Tamil Nadu has created possibilities for an unpredictable swing to occur. As things stand now, the formidable Democratic Progressive Alliance, that enabled the Congress to lead a secular coalition at the Centre in 2004 by winning all the 40 seats at stake in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, is definitely damaged.

The development may not pose a threat to the stability of the government at the Centre (the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has 4 seats in the Lok Sabha), but Vaiko's pact with the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which had jailed him in 2002 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, comes as a shock. When Vaiko was arrested for having supported the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, he had shouted against the AIADMK's 'fascist regime'. Jayalalithaa had also appealed for a ban on the MDMK.

But politics makes strange bedfellows. Though assured of a reasonable seat-sharing deal by the DMK, the prospect of his b'te noire, M.K. Stalin, popping up as prospective chief ministerial candidate made Vaiko change boats. Jayalalithaa, who would have been otherwise isolated again by the grand alliance, offered a liberal 35 assembly seats to Vaiko against the maximum of 22 seats the DMK could offer.

Rank and file

The high drama unfolded when the DMK was in the midst of its ninth state conference at Tiruchirappalli, where C.N. Annadurai had announced the decision to enter electoral politics in 1956. A DMK conclave at Tiruchirappalli always has a strong emotive ring about it. The silver jubilee of the DMK's youth wing, under Stalin, was an added dimension.

Vaiko's plea is that the majority of his district secretaries and the party cadre prefer an electoral tie-up with Amma. A rash of ambiguous statements in various fora by Vaiko in the last two months, had also got the DMK thinking, though M. Karunanidhi still tried to keep the bonhomie going. But the DMK rank and file were unwilling to give away a big share of seats to the MDMK. Amidst these pulls and pressures, the carrot dangled by the AIADMK clinched the deal.

Even earlier, Vaiko had tried to put up an alternative front, first with the CPI(M) in 1996 and then alone in 2001, but had drawn a blank. So it was back to the AIADMK this time, after an eight year gap when the two fought the 1998 Lok Sabha polls together as part of a BJP-inclusive alliance.

Cult worship

Though condemned for 'political opportunism', Vaiko has unwittingly fleshed out the deeper crisis of leadership in the Dravidian movement with both the DMK and the AIADMK spinning around a personality cult. The DMK believes it has at last identified a successor in Stalin, not merely because he is Karunanidhi's son, but because he is a youth leader who has grown up in his own right. Stalin's tenure as the Chennai mayor in 1996-2001 is widely seen as positive.

But Vaiko thinks that the future of the Dravidian movement is in the hands of the MDMK. This is evident in the choice of the prefix 'Marumalarchi', meaning renaissance, after he was expelled from the DMK in 1993 on charges of trying to capture the DMK leadership.

Vaiko had since rubbished the charge, saying it was only an excuse to promote 'dynastic rule' in the DMK. But whether an AIADMK-MDMK combination is a real alternative is the moot point. The Dalits in Tamil Nadu who comprise nearly 25 per cent of the electorate do not yet figure significantly on both sides of the equation. This keeps the quest for the next leadership of the Dravidian movement, till now a broad coalition of the backward class-other backward class-minorities, open-ended.

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